We’re thrilled to celebrate that our longtime community partner, Staunton City School Nutrition Director Amanda Warren, is a recipient of the 2020 Dawbarn Education Award! Here are a few words about Amanda from the Project GROWS staff!

Amanda Warren serving a Farm Market Salad Bar at Bessie Weller Elementary in 2018.

It is well understood that good nutrition is foundational to academic achievement. As Nutrition Director, Amanda encourages students across the Staunton City School District to reach their full potential through her innovative and progressive health and nutrition initiatives. In 2017, Amanda brought together Project GROWS and other local growers to begin a conversation about bringing fresh, local produce into the Staunton City Schools cafeterias. Amanda worked together with the growers to figure out how the relationship could work smoothly for both the cafeteria managers and the farmers. Project GROWS began selling produce to the schools that summer for the Summer Feeding Program and the program was so successful that we continued into the regular school year that fall. In addition to our continuing weekly sales to the cafeterias, Amanda increases these weekly sales during the month of October for Farm to School month by coordinating recipes with the cafeteria managers that use produce we have available at the farm. Amanda reaches out to the Project GROWS director of farm operations directly in advance of this event every year to plan school lunches that use as many local ingredients as possible.

A YMCA camper chops cucumbers at the 2018 Staunton City Schools Summer Feeding Event at the Project GROWS farm.

Amanda’s commitment to food procurement from local producers and her ongoing support for our garden-based education programming are tied to her belief that such efforts enhance the school curriculum and provide essential career exposure to students. Moreover, Amanda’s dedication to incorporating nutrition through access to healthy locally produced food connects city-dwelling students in Staunton to Augusta County, the second largest agricultural producing county in Virginia. Over the years, Amanda has coordinated Summer Feeding Program Events at Project GROWS and Gypsy Hill Park where students have had the opportunity to meet local farmers, pet dairy cows, and participate in hands-on garden and cooking activities culminating in free meals featuring local food.

Amanda has also coordinated salad bars featuring Project GROWS vegetables and worked closely with the Project GROWS team to expand farm to school tastings through our Harvest of the Month program, bringing monthly samples of fresh, local veggies to every Staunton City Schools student throughout the school year. From the Napa cabbage slaw and roasted sweet potatoes offered through Harvest of the Month to the new menu items Amanda regularly introduces to the lunch line, her commitment to, in her own words, “open minds and palates”, is truly commendable. These initiatives inspire youth to learn about and actually taste new veggies, impacting students for the rest of their lives. During these tastings, Amanda plays a key role in connecting the students, the cafeteria managers, and the farmers to enrich the experience for all participants and is often seen throughout the cafeterias encouraging students to try the samples! After these tastings, Amanda encourages the cafeteria managers to continue to purchase the featured vegetable and we at Project GROWS have seen the quantity of produce we sell to the schools increase as a result.

Project GROWS staff and volunteers prep samples of local veggies for Staunton students.

Amanda was instrumental in the SCS Nutrition Program receiving the Dorothy S. McAuliffe School Nutrition Award, presented by No Kid Hungry Virginia, in both 2018 and 2019. This award “celebrates Virginia school divisions that have gone above and beyond by operating all available federal child nutrition programs and achieving exceptional participation in the school breakfast program”! Her program was also honored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Turnip the Beet Award in 2019 for excellence in its summer meals programming. In fact, the SCS Nutrition Program was the the only Turnip the Beet award winner in Virginia to receive gold, AND was one of only 15 gold winners across all fifty states! Wow!

Project GROWS is proud to work with such a dynamic school nutrition leader that champions local produce in her school cafeterias and collaborates across the community to improve the health of children and youth in Staunton! Keep up the good work, Amanda!